A record number of online sales are expected to be made today as shoppers take advantage of website deals from the comfort of their own homes.
Dubbed "Cyber Monday", today experts are predicting 115 million visits to web stores - up by more than a third on last year - with spending potentially topping £465m.
Recent years have seen online shopping figures consistently peaking on the first Monday in December, after most UK consumers have just received their last pay cheque before Christmas.
But this year is expected to top all previous years, driven by discounted online deals and greater availability.
Visa Europe predicts £320m will be spent on its cards alone as online transactions top £6.8m, an increase of 21 per cent on last year, making 3 December the busiest online shopping day in history.
It comes as Amazon launched an online premium fashion store in a bid to take on the likes of Net-A-Porter and ASOS. As it went live today it was already offering a 50 per cent discount on coats, jeans and accessories.
Last year amazon.co.uk took orders for three million items on Cyber Monday and at its peak delivery time had a truck dispatching every two minutes and 45 seconds.
Christopher North, managing director of amazon.co.uk, said: "As people increasingly shop on mobile devices and benefit from fast broadband at home, we're seeing a move towards customers buying their Christmas gifts later in the evening when they are at home relaxing."
Amazon has employed an extra 10,000 workers while M&S has recruited an additional 800 employees at its distribution centres and doubled the number of employees working in its e-commerce call centre.
David Walmsley, multi-channel development director at M&S, said: "For months, we've been planning behind the scenes to make sure we're fully prepared to manage the huge uplift in orders we're expecting."
Asda Direct says it is expecting to see a 50 per cent spike in traffic to its electronic equipment retail section, compared with a normal Monday.
CD sales are also expected to increase by 70 per cent, while some popular DVD titles are due for a 50 per cent rise, the retailer said. Its fashion brand, George.com, predicts it will shift 12,000 onesies in one day alone, as online shoppers hunt for Christmas bargains.
High Street shopping
The busiest times of the day were expected to be during people's lunch hours and at 9pm tonight.But some have appeared to get a head start in advance of Cyber Monday.
John Lewis this weekend reported a record week for its online sales, soaring to £37.9m, and the third best ever week for John Lewis department stores, topping £124.2m.
A poll suggested greater numbers of shoppers would be foregoing the high street in an effort to buy their presents from the comfort of their homes.
According to the survey by Onepoll on behalf of Royal Mail, 43 per cent of people are planning to do more of their Christmas shopping online this year than they did the year before - with around 57 per cent expecting to do around the same.
Royal Mail's Nick Landon said: "Online shopping is now such a key part of the Christmas shopping experience. Our research shows that more people will be going online for their festive gifts this year than ever before.
"Royal Mail is prepared for this rise in parcels, by opening our eight dedicated parcel sort centres, which will assist our network during our busiest time of the year."
But it is not just on the web where shoppers are expected to be busy this month. More than £11bn is forecast to be withdrawn from the UK's cash machines during December, equating to more than £41,000 per second.
The term "Cyber Monday" is one borrowed from America where it was first introduced in 2005 by a marketing company to encourage people to shop online on the Monday after Black Friday, the Friday following Thanksgiving
The busiest shopping day on the high street often falls two days before Christmas Day, with the weekend of December 22 and 23 expected to draw peak numbers of shoppers this year.
20 January 2012